I Put This Moment Here

hand-string-tied_~x10591428

“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

I have a memory like a sieve.  My recollections of the past come to me in flashes and snippets and I have to be mindful not to fall into one of the many great blank holes when traipsing around in half-forgotten yesterdays. Part of it is the result of a built-in self-defense mechanism, tamping down the harmful events that one never quite survives intact. The rest? Just plain negligence. I am a poor caretaker of retrospection.

And for a while, I wasn’t bothered by it. Then I reached a point in life when memories—–of love and pain and the whole damned thing—-became important because I found myself wanting to catalog my journey before I reached the end of the race (it’s always closer than you expect and they say you never see the finish line with your name on it).

But now, when I recount the tales of the various and sundry someones who impacted my life before blowing away like a leaf in the wind, someones whose names I used to be able to recite by rote, those names have now taken up permanent residence on the tip of my tongue but never so close as to venture past my lips.

I find that in order to remember a past event, I have to place it in a location that’s visible so that I don’t misplace it along with my keys and smartphone. I have chosen this place as the soil in which to plant my evaporating memories before they’re gone forever.

I put this moment here:

Of the girl that I fancied in the first grade whose name might have been Cheryl or Shirley but for some reason I remember it as “Squirrel,” whom I wrote about when the teacher asked the class to write about something we loved. And that selfsame teacher thinking it was so adorable that she took me to Squirrel’s class and made me read it aloud to her. You’re never too young to discover embarrassment.

I put this moment here:

Of the German woman who made me my first brown bag lunch for school that consisted of a healthy liverwurst sandwich which I enjoyed the taste of but stopped eating altogether after being teased at school by the other kids for eating dog food. It hurt her feelings and I wish I had a stronger conviction to continue eating the lunches she prepared with love.

I put this moment here:

Of the asexual woman I worked with at a car rental agency who looked like a young Peggy Lipton and lived in New Jersey. I remember riding the Path train to her house and we would regularly break dawn discussing her passion, serial killers. She didn’t own a television and instead had an impressive collection of serial killer and unsolved murder case books. I found her fascinating and in hindsight I suppose I’m lucky that I never went missing.

I put this moment here:

Of the woman I worked with at a banking institution who I wound up spending a bizarre New Year’s Eve with as we searched Manhattan for the perfect place to ring in the new year and wound up laying in the grass of Central Park making resolutions and wishing on stars for a better year to come.

Sometimes when my mind is idle, I struggle to recall the names of people and events trapped within synaptic pathways that withered from non-use, names and events I feel I should remember because of the emotions that linger despite the fact the memories have faded and recognition has faltered.

I lament the loss of these remembrances because they’re all a part of me and I’m afraid to learn the answer to what of myself will remain when all the memories have faded away.

Gather ye memories while ye may. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

 

Advertisements

Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

braid

“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.

It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.

It drove my parents crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Madd-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.

Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.

She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.

It would take many years for me to become that type of person.

But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retired Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.

I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.

Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.

At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.

While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.

Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.

I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retried-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.

And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Madd-ness afterward. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings-on in the world we created.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.

The Long Haul to Seventy-Five Short Stories

short-story

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.” ― Andre Dubus

I began writing when I was young.

Well, back then I drew pictures and wrote little stories beneath them in a prehistoric blog-like fashion. The first story I remember writing was about God. Couldn’t have been more than five years old at the time and I’m sure it wasn’t much of a story. The only reason I remember it is because I was punished for it. Not the story so much as the crayon drawing of God accompanying it. Just a bearded man sitting on a chair in the clouds. To this day I have no idea why it sparked so much anger.

In school, I devoured comic books and my storytelling reflected this as I scribbled comic panels in my composition notebooks and sometimes my textbooks if I ran out of paper. I only shifted gears to prose after Frank Herbert absolutely blew my mind with the first book in his Dune series that I read in the sixth grade to impress a girl named Jeanette Baker.

It was her favorite book.

Ultimately, she wasn’t all that impressed by either me or my ability to read feudal interstellar societal science fiction, but Paul Atreides, The Bene Gesserit, The Fremen, and The Spice Melange left a lasting impression on me.

Unavoidable circumstances after college pulled me away from writing for longer than I’m happy to admit, but today marks the completion of my seventy-fifth short story since I was lured back into writing after reading a copy of Harlan Ellison’s short story collection, Strange Wine, in a public library tucked away in Portsmouth Virginia.

Another mind altering experience, as Harlan introduced me to the world of speculative fiction.

This milestone doesn’t include my detours into graphic novel self-publishing or article writing and short/feature length screenwriting. Nor does it include the many and various unfinished stories that inhabit my Story Box Full of Regret. A handful were sold to a number of low-level zines during the halcyon days of snail mail querying and submissions and only thirteen have been forever filed away in the fad drawer due to outdated themes.

Of the remaining sixty-two stories, only six are so cringe-inducingly bad that I refuse to revise them. They serve as a reminder of just how awful my writing can be when I’m off my game and a yardstick as to how far I’ve come since my far-too-late-in-life return to the medium (no advice please, I’ve already written two posts on the subject and I’m well aware of the ages of the older first published authors).

The forty-five on the rung above are all inspired by actual events, ripped from the pages of my journal—-when I used to keep a journal—-and fictionalized into speculative and science fiction, horror and modern day twisted fairy tale pieces. This was when I followed that old chestnut piece of writing advice, Write what you know. These stories know the terrain well enough since they’ve been around the block a time or two. All they need is a bit of a touch-up, light revision at the most before they make their rounds again. I’m confident they’ll find a home somewhere.

The final eleven are hatchlings, newbie stories that are a tad more introspective and feature solid speculative elements. I’m a proud Papa so I must admit that these tales are my best, though if I had my druthers I would have planted their roots more firmly in the soil of either horror or science fiction instead of having them languish somewhere in the bleed of the two genres.

Of these, four are out for approval which leaves seven that I’m in the midst of revising before they join their brothers and sisters in the cold cruel world. The aim naturally is to send them all out so that can quit bugging me about wanting to be read. They can be so annoying that way.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

Snatched From the Heart of Stars: What’s Your Creative DNA?

DNA

“People they come together, People they fall apart,
No one can stop us now, ‘Cause we are all made of stars” — Moby

Ideas spark ideas, as I’m sure you well know, and while contemplating a previous post on the message I would send to my younger self, I was hit with another thought along similar lines, but the scenario requires a little theater of the mind setup first:

It begins with the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute detecting a radio signal that finally confirms the existence of extraterrestrial life. How did the aliens learn of our existence, you ask? You know the deal: Voyager 1 and 2 get swallowed up by a singularity and spit out in the middle of uncharted space and intercepted by a curious and as-yet-thought-to-be-benign alien race. Now quit bogging down my backstory with unnecessary questions.

Top minds–-including astrophysicists, cryptanalysts, linguists and mathematicians–-are called in to decipher the message and after an exhaustive code-breaking session, the oddest thing is found embedded in the communique: My name.

Uh-uh, no questions, remember?

After being properly vetted—they’d have to make sure I’m not some wackadoo that’s gonna build himself an Interocitor using off-world schematics or sell the Earth off to the highest bidder—I’m brought in to begin a controlled dialogue with the alien. During the exchange, my new intergalactic pen pal asks the question: “Who are you?” I answer with my personal history and the reply I get back is, “No, who are you?

We’re all stumped at this point.

Over a pint and some pub grub, me, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox, and Michio Kaku (let’s face it, they’re all my buds at this point) are trying to puzzle this out when I’m struck with an idea, “What if the extraterrestrials are utilizing fourth-dimensional, or higher, level thinking and need broader definitions in which to extrapolate the answers they seek?” The astro-brainiacs think I might be onto something.

[I need to pause the post at this point because I can hear your laughter and it’s a bit disruptive. And rude, if I’m honest. Out of everything so far, the only problem you have is that I offered a solution in an astrophysics think tank? Really?]

And now we get to the meat of the nutshell:

If I had to encode myself into a relatively short information sequence, what sources would I pick?

Since mathematics and I feud constantly and are court-ordered to remain at least 500 yards apart from one another at any given time, I know I can’t make this work on a fundamental science level. My only option is to go the artistic route.

Now, the chore becomes one of selecting 10 works that once read/viewed/listened to/etc., would allow an absolutely non-terran life form to know the essence of me. This is what I came up with:

  1. Movie: The Lion in Winter

Lion_In_Winter1

The film takes place in the year 1183 AD and tells the story of King Henry II’s three sons all of whom want to inherit the throne, but Henry won’t commit to a choice, so they and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, variously plot to force him.

I’ve chosen this to illustrate the relationship between me and all my families (both birth and extended). It speaks to the complexities of familial love and how I tend to love what I destroy and destroy the things I love.

  1. Book: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A, Heinlein

In not so subtle Christ analogy, the book tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. It explores his interaction with—and eventual transformation of—terrestrial culture.

This was chosen to illustrate my social anxieties–that wax and wane in an unpredictable manner–and the fact that I never feel I properly fit in with any crowd that isn’t one of my making. There truly exists no place on Earth where I feel at home.

stranger_in_a_strange_land_cover

  1. Poem: Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Chosen to represent my attempt at zen thoughts. These are the inner things I strive for that always seem to exist just beyond the reach of my higher consciousness fingertips. One day, though. This and the lottery. Hope springs eternal.

  1. Art: The Scream by Edvard Munch

In his diary in an entry headed, Nice 22 January 1892, Munch described his inspiration for the image:

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.

This piece represents the insanity that lies just beneath my cool surface. The things I see and hear that apparently, no one else acknowledges. But it’s real, dammit. It better be.

the-scream

  1. Sculpture: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

The Thinker was originally meant to depict Dante in front of the Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. This is precisely why I have chosen this, as I am well aware that I am the cause of most of the disasters that have occurred in my life and have often sat and pondered how I let things get to their current state.

Thinker

  1. Photography: Tank Man by Jeff Widener

The iconic photo of Tank Man, the unknown rebel who stood in front of a column of Chinese tanks in an act of defiance following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This is an obvious one as it represents my personal autonomy and contemptuous behavior/attitude towards authority figures to the point of appearing as a provocateur or just plain anti-social.

Tank Man

  1. Music: Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós

This album is 72 minutes of sonically rich, emotionally pulverizing perfection. From the orchestral splendor of “Starálfur,” to the transcendent ache of “Ný batterí.” each decayed synth tone and cymbal splash conjures a world of endless possibilities. Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson wrote the following mission statement:

“We are not a band, we are music. We are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music. And don’t think we can’t do it, we will.” 14 years after the fact — Spin presented Birgisson with that quote. He responded with laughter, “You’re young and full of energy and have this cockiness,” he said. “I think it’s beautiful.”

This represents my initial mindset when I first began to write again.

Ágætis byrjun

  1. Television: The Twilight Zone (1959 series) by Rod Serling and various

Rod

This science-fiction/fantasy anthology series consisting of unrelated stories depicting paranormal, futuristic, Kafkaesque, or otherwise disturbing or unusual events (typically featuring some sort of plot twist and moral), represents my imagination as it shaped the way I view fiction.

  1. Play: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim

sweeney

A 1979 musical thriller set in 19th century England tells the story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years transportation on trumped-up charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who transported him, he vows revenge on the judge and, later, the whole world. He teams up with a piemaker, Mrs. Lovett, and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies.

This speaks to my Scorpio nature of quietly holding a grudge with untold patience until the chance presents itself to sting back. Not so much anymore, though. I’ve mellowed in my old age. Stop looking at me like you don’t believe me.

 

  1. Performance art: The Invisible Man: Liu Bolin’s camouflage artwork

liu-bolin-new-york_2172409k

Liu uses paint to camouflage him to make himself invisible in public. This represents the fact that I was born invisible and the only time I’m ever seen is when I write.

Before you start nitpicking the logic of sending earth-logic/culture-bound works of art to an alien, I refer you to the Moby lyrics quoted at the top of the post and if we are all truly made of stars, there surely must be some commonality that binds us together, yes? Why can’t art be the universe’s language?

 

A Message to My Younger Self: Try Harder

message-in-a-bottle-633134

I have no doubt that my story will end in very much the same manner as it began, with a secret. And as I stand at the crossroads, caught at the precise moment where a lifetime of secrets left untold should either be revealed or die forever, I stare at the younger man, eyes full of dreams that have not yet been crushed ‘neath the heel of reality, and find it difficult to believe that I was once him.” — Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys, The Very Fabric of Time Itself

I was riding the Staten Island Ferry today and it was one of those rare occasions when I wasn’t plugged into my iPod. I had just finished listening to an episode of The Afternoon Drama (a daily BBC radio play series) and as I was letting the weight of the story settle in, I overheard a conversation between a couple. They were talking about the five messages they would include in a letter if they were able to have it delivered to their younger selves.

This, of course, got me thinking about my own letter and how difficult a process it would be to write. The younger me, we’ll call him Li’l Madd for the sake of this post, was a card-carrying member of The Bronx Chapter of the International Skeptics Society who wouldn’t have believed

  1. the letter came from the future, and more importantly,
  2. that his future self had written it.

Also, I’m sure if I flat out told him of the obstacles he would face, that information would be redacted by some faceless wage slave at the Temporal Post Office, so the message would have to be as succinct as possible. And, if I’m honest, I wasn’t in love with the notion of sending five messages because that seemed a bit much to me. No one follows all five pieces of advice they receive. Humans just aren’t built that way. I’d either have to settle on offering Li’l Madd three pieces of advice, hoping that at least one of them stuck, or offer one simple, yet key, bit of advice with a unifying thread. Most likely I’d go with the second option.

The next problem is offering the exact piece of advice Li’l Madd would listen to. That’s a toughie, that one. Yup. Yessiree, Bob. Sigh. I guess it would all have to fall under the category of Try Harder, as in:

Love fiercely and try harder not to break hearts. Befriend the friendless and try harder not to burn bridges. Laugh more and try harder not to take life too seriously. Follow your bliss and try harder to stave off the darkness. Turn off the TV and try harder to think deeply. Take your time but try harder to avoid procrastination. Dream bigger and try harder to stop worrying about dreams not coming true. And stay away from Jane Hester. Sure, she’s pretty to look at but she’s nothing but trouble and It. Will. Not. End. Well.

I’m sure that last bit will get redacted, but here’s hoping!

Author’s Note: While Jane Hester most certainly exists, Jane Hester’s name is not Jane Hester. I wouldn’t out anyone like that, not even Jane Hester. But if you ran into Jane Hester in the real world, you’d know exactly who she was, without even checking her scalp for the Mark of the Beast.

Passage Through the Graveyard of Earthworms

dead-worms

My monotony needed twisting yesterday, so I went for a stroll, sans iPod. You know, breathe in a bit of city fresh air, clear some cobwebs, that sort of deal.

There I was walking down the street, mind-sifting through character conversations and scene settings when I looked down at the pavement and realized that I was traipsing through what looked like the aftermath of the Great Worm War of 2017. The sidewalk was a battlefield littered with the corpses of thousands of earthworms that coated an entire city block.

Logically I knew how this could have happened. I knew they came to the surface either during the heavy rains–but it’s been dry weather for the past week–or to pair off and mate only to get caught on things that are hard for them to crawl across, like sidewalks and subsequently fry on the surface from sun rays–but that normally occurs during spring.

So, what then? Had there actually been a battle? Warring clans pitched against one another over territorial disputes? Factions in conflict over the claiming of a throne? Families locked in a deadly dispute over an unholy union?

Or was it a warning?

As I stood there, staring at their dried remains, curled into runic shapes, I wondered if they had been somehow gifted with a vision of the approaching apocalypse and had sacrificed themselves in an effort to warn us in the only language they knew. The last Germanic language spoken to them by man before the two species went their separate ways.

In that moment I felt like Indiana Jones in the passageway to the Grail chamber, trying to decipher the worm cadavers’ possible portents of doom, only without the aid of a diary or Sean Connery whispering something about, “Only the penitent man will pass.” or like John Nash without an ounce of the mental code breaking ability.

And I stood there. Longer than I’m comfortable admitting. Frustrated by the limits of my linguistics. Finally, I forced myself to move on, but not before making a promise:

No more outdoor strolls without my iPod.

Rise of the Fallen 722nd

space-teriyaki048_900

Outside of the odd hashtag game on Twitter (including #SlapDashSat, the one hosted by yours truly) I usually don’t actively participate in writing prompts. Not that I have a snobbish attitude toward them, anything that gets the creative juices flowing and entices you to write is okay in my book, I’ve simply never encountered a suggested prompt sentence, paragraph or picture that inspired me. Until I stumbled upon the Noriyoshi Orai gem shown above.

Blindsided by an idea, I began scribbling notes of a futuristic war set in the past with the intention of re-imaging it as a zugzwang story using a fairy tale twist. Why a fairy tale? Because the old ones are replete with heavy messages, drenched in misfortunes of the world, and yet faith, perseverance, and sometimes sheer luck, can turn the tide in overcoming life’s trials. I wanted to present it as an old story, told in archaic language, laced with a subtle message still relevant to the modern world.

If you ever want to hear your muse laugh, tell her your lofty goals for a story before you’ve written it.

“Rise of the Fallen 722nd” began life as a story examining patriotism, loyalty, and the enduring human spirit in the face of the ultimate no-win scenario. The outline wasn’t difficult to put on paper. The story itself? That’s a different matter altogether. It went through the draft mill four times, each revision drastically different from the one before. Only one patch of dialogue survived from the original piece.

Futuristic war? Check. Set in the past? Check. Zugzwang? Double check. Fairy tale twist? Not so much. The fairy tale elements weakened the integrity of the overall structure and sadly had to be put down like Old Yeller. Still, it’s been fun (and frustrating) to write. And I’m not done with it. They say fifth time’s the charm, right?

Wish me luck.

©2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

One Hell Of An Offer

image

Modestine was aware of the gap in her memory, the section of consciousness that was removed and two separate events seamlessly spliced together in a non-jarring, dream jump-cut fashion.

The first partial memory was of Modestine stepping out of the shower. Her petite foot missed the rubberized shower mat by inches and instead slid along the wet tiled floor. Her vision shifted up toward the ceiling and her eyes locked on the one hundred watt energy saving fluorescent light bulb. The next instant, at the point of the splice, she found herself standing inside a pair of pearlescent gates, as patient as the lamb she was in life.

She was dead, of this there was no doubt. There was also no cause for alarm. She had no memory of either fear, pain or the precise moment of her death. That was the portion that was mercifully removed from her awareness, no doubt to aid in her acceptance of events.

Modestine watched the hubbub of nervous yet joyous chatter and a flurry of feathers as angels tested their wings in the air above her. They flew from structure to structure — she hesitated thinking of the impossibly tall spires as buildings because their various shapes defied her limited perceptions of architecture — getting the lay of the land. Though no one told her, she somehow knew this commotion was normal for the first day of new arrivals in heaven.

While she waited, Modestine’s eyes drifted over to an ornate pulpit offset to the right of the gates. This, she assumed, was where the welcoming saint was supposed to have been stationed, but Peter was nowhere in sight. She noticed a few pages had fallen from the ledger on the pulpit, so she spent a little of the time laying the leafs out, deciding the order they should go in, and locating the exact spots in the book they had fallen from.

Finally, an angel arrived, tall and thin with black horn-rimmed eyeglasses he no longer needed. A remnant of his physical life that he clung to, a misconception that it was a permanent part of his appearance. A trapping that would fade in time. This was yet another thing Modestine had known without being told.

The glasses made the angel look bookwormish and out of place in their surroundings. Then she felt guilty for judging his appearance. Who was she to do this? She, who had always been short and mousy in the physical world, what her mother affectionately called the uns — undertall and unassuming. She wondered what she looked like to him and if the same rules of beauty still applied here.

“Hi, I’m Modestine.” she offered a hand and a smile simultaneously.

Bookworm eyed her head to toe and back to head again, before taking her hand for two firm pumps. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched screeching noise, intense enough to rock her celestial molars.

Modestine, who graduated magna cum laude in never let ’em see you sweat university, replied, “Pleased to meet you…” and she tried her best to match the noise he made… but came up a little short. A lot short, actually.

Bookworm let out a burst of short laughs like a semi-automatic weapon. “Just messing with you. My name’s Phil. Welcome to Heaven!”

Modestine didn’t really get the joke but smiled anyway. “Are you here to give me the guided tour?” she asked.

“Heavens no,” Phil replied. “That’ll come later, once all this dies down. Saint Peter sends his apologies, by the way…”

“Oh, that’s no problem at all.”

“I’m here to take you to class.”

“Oh, okay.” Modestine followed behind Phil, a little unsteady on her wings, but through sheer determination managed to keep up.

Phil led her past fields of flora and fauna, the likes of which she could never have dreamed existed and finally into a structure that housed a vast amphitheater that was unmistakably set up like a classroom. Packed to capacity, its seats were filled with the most grotesque and vile creatures imaginable.

“Here you are.” Phil gestured in the direction of the amphitheater and was about to fly off.

“Wait! Wait!” Modestine caught his forearm and pulled him down to eye level. “Where do I sit?”

“At the podium, where else?” Even in Heaven, the duh look had a sting.

“What? Why?”

“Don’t tell me no one let you know?” Phil looked at the class with his best can you believe some people look. “You’re a teacher, right? Or were, before, you know…”

Modestine nodded, “Underprivileged kids. Twelve years.”

“Well…” Phil swept his arm in the direction of the class as if to answer.

“Oh, no… no way. I’m not qualified for this. I barely know what I’m doing here.”

“It’ll come to you as you need. Heaven’s cool that way.”

“But, this class…” Modestine whispered. “Not to be rude but what are they?”

“Our version of underprivileged students. They’re bussed in every day.”

“From Hell?”

“We tend not to use that term in front of the students. We call it The Basement.” Phil checked the invisible watch on his bare wrist. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta run. Too many new recruits and not enough ushers. You’ll be great. I’ve got a feeling about you.” he smiled and shot into the sky, leaving Modestine’s jaw swinging on its hinges.

The once and now future teacher straightened out her ethereal robe, cleared her throat, turned and faced the class. “Pleased to meet you, class. My name is Modestine. Welcome to Introduction to Heaven.” The name she took off the lesson booklet on the podium. The completely blank lesson booklet. Beside it was the roster. “Hopefully you’re all in your assigned seats because it’s the only way I’m going to learn your names with a class this size.”

Modestine went through the attendance sheet and called her students one by one, each responding with a grunt or bodily noise that she assumed translated as “Present!” When she completed her check, surprisingly every student sat quietly or whispered inaudibly to their neighbor.

“Well, class, as some of you might have figured out, I’m new here, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions. My goal is to teach you everything about heaven, which means I’ll be learning it as you do, and if I don’t know an answer to your question, I’ll do my best to find out as quickly as possible. Today, though, I’m going to outline my expectations of you, and how you’ll be graded.”

The time passed swifter than Modestine had anticipated. Quite frankly she was surprised to be aware of the passing of time at all. For the most part, her students were orderly. A few class clowns, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She’d straighten them out before the course was over.

The entire class watched her closely, she never felt so scrutinized before, and a good deal of the period was spent answering questions about Earth. It wasn’t long before she realized these students were born in Hell and Earth was like some mythical place to them. When the earth questions began dying down, she introduced several icebreaking games before the class broke for recess.

As the class filed out of the amphitheater, some by flight, a few in a puff of eye-watering brimstone, and the rest on cloven feet, one student hung back.

“Miss Modestine,” the young demon said when all the others had left.

“Just Modestine, and, yes… ?” she searched the attendance sheet for the section he came from, hoping one of the names would jog her memory.

The demon shook his head. “You won’t find me on your list. I’m not one of your students.”

“You’re not? Then who… ?”

“Many names have I, from those who live and those who die, but for you, I wish to be known as Mister Thatch.”

Modestine frowned, looking down at this creature who straighten itself in an odd regality. “All right, Mr. Thatch… what is it you want?”

Thatch pulled a file folder from seemingly nowhere and opened it. “Interesting session today. I’m assuming you taught the class off the cuff, as I am unable to identify any of what was discussed in the pre-approved syllabus, correct?”

“As I stated at the beginning of class, this assignment was thrust upon me at the last moment, so if you have any objections…”

“No, please, you mistake my meaning. I’m not here to condemn you, I was simply assessing your performance. It’s what I was hired to do.”

“By whom?”

“Your superiors would call them Basement Management.”

“And do my superiors know you’re here?”

“They should. It would make for a shoddy operation if they didn’t. Now, as to my assessment,” he pulled a document from his folder, stapled in the top left-hand corner. “Here is an offer from my employers for you to teach your course to a larger audience of underprivileged students. Please study it carefully and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Please be aware that agreement to the terms as stipulated in the contract will require you to abandon your post here. Out of curiosity, are you willing to relocate?”

Modestine stared dumbstruck at the professionally worded document in her hands. An immediate and instant “No” rested on the tip of her tongue but never quite made it past her lips, because, in her quick scan, she found a list of perks that tickled each and every one of her many interests, as any temptation worth its salt should have done.

“I’ll need to read this more closely, Mr. Thatch, before I can respond, of course.”

“Of course. I think you’ll find the compensation quite reasonable. If you have questions, you may ask me at any time. We have high expectations and we’re positive you can fulfill them, Miss Modestine.”

“Just Modestine, and why me?”

“You’re new and, as yet, unjaded by the caste system. We look forward to working with you.” Thatch held out a hand, which Modestine took. It was remarkably soft, despite its texture. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Modestine watched as the demon simply evaporated from the room. She looked at the contract. Am I willing to relocate? she asked herself as she walked over to her desk, sat and read the agreement more thoroughly. Again, she found it difficult to verbalize the word “No”. Chiefly because she loved working with underprivileged students and they didn’t come more disadvantaged than the denizens of The Basement. The second reason was she’d always preferred warmer climates and there was an odd constant chill to the air in Heaven…

Sally forth and be weighing out your options ’cause heaven ain’t for everybodyingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

The Folds of Love

image

When the delivery truck pulls up outside the shop, neither of us look out the window ’cause we know exactly who it is. 12:15 pm on the dot means Department of Tissue Waste Removal. Light load today. Driver only schleps in one body bag.

“You’re up, Mickey.” Jhonni nods my way. “Snag ‘n tag salvageables and dip the rest.”

Mickey. Only other person to ever call me that was my pops. I hated when he did it and I damn sure hate that my boss somehow exposed that raw nerve. He only does it to get a rise outta me, but I ain’t bitin’ so I let it slide this time. My mistake? Tellin’ baldilocks here I prefer bein’ called Michelle.

Snag ‘n tag means I gotta dissect the corpse for salvagables, which are any organs that ain’t completely shot to shit and dip whatever’s left over in the chemical vat for DNA repurposin’ — usually either cosmetic skin grafts, lifelike mannequins for movie stunts or some other bioengineerin’ bullshit I don’t really understand.

I sigh, chuck the rest of the deck onto my game of solitaire — cards weren’t cooperating, no how — and walk over to the body bag. I ain’t squeamish about dead bodies or puttin’ the blade to ’em, but I do have one hangup…

I hear myself mutterin’ before I have a chance to stop it, “Don’tbeadudedon’tbeadudedon’tbeadude…” and when I unzip the bag, guess what? A dude. So’s we’re clear, I gots no prob flaying a man, it’s just that chick thing that does me in. You gals know what I’m talking about.

Every man a woman meets, she sizes him up and decides if she’d throw him one. Sex, I mean. Young, old, fat, skinny, short, tall… alive or dead, you rate ’em. Would you do ’em, could you do ’em and under what circumstances? A dare? Boredom? For the story? Only me, I got this vivid imagination, see, and when I come across a mutilated dude, I see myself having sex with him. And no, I ain’t no nekkidphiliac, they’re very much alive in my scenarios, just all banged up, pardon the expression.

This one, Ethan Garner, by the toe tag, was tore up from the floor up. Anythin’ worth savin’ would be an innard and not one that’d bring high market value, either. Somethin’ nickel and dime like an appendix, spleen, or some shit.

The fluorescents buzz overhead and sweat breaks out on my forehead as I hear Ethan groan beneath me in my mind’s eye. Think of a dude I know, think of a dude I know. No good. Where’s my iPod? I need a distraction.

The cause of death is listed as Industrial Misadventure which meant poor old Ethan was mangled by machinery, probably one of them press and fold jobbers. His body looks like a bedsheet fresh out the package, tucked up all tight into a tidy square. How the hell am I going to get inside to harvest organs?

I put a little elbow grease into it, dig my fingers into a crease — an armpit, maybe? — and try to pry it apart. Bones creak and skin pulls apart from skin with the sound of moist velcro. I’m sweatin’ buckets now, cause in my head, Ethan is givin’ me the workout of a lifetime, only I can’t see his face so it’s like doing it with a Hot Pocket with a hard-on. Focus, Mickey! Focus! Damn, now that bastard’s got me doin’ it.

With the back of my blade, I scrape away the dried blood, which there’s plenty of, and I find a seam. That’s right, a goddammed seam! Now, I wasn’t exactly top of my class in Biology, but I’m kinda certain the human body don’t come equipped with seams. But I’m curious about this so I make my first cut along Ethan’s unnatural hem.

My fingers move into the cut and part skin. I tilt the swing arm lamp to get a better view and the light catches somethin’ that makes my stomach hitch. Whoever bagged this on scene fucked up big time, which I suppose is kinda-sorta understandable, given the unusual nature of the cause of death, but if I reported it, it’d probably cost that slob their job. The Office of Forensic Affairs forgives a ton of infractions, unfortunately, body count ain’t one of ’em. This was incorrectly listed as a single, when Ethan here, is wrapped around a whole other body.

The second body’s a smaller one, a girl, judging by the tiny pink-painted fingernails, and in the middle of a splatter of brain matter is a child-sized tiara, pressed between them like a flower in a book. The sex visions with Ethan stop instantly and my stomach heaves as I try not to hurl.

My jumpsuit is dripping with sweat and it clings to my clammy body to the point it makes my skin crawl. And then my trusty dusty brain, with its wonderful imagination, kicks into overdrive and I play the story of their final moments.

Ethan works — worked — works in laundry services. It’s bring your daughter to work day. Maybe he’s a weekend dad that doesn’t get to spend enough quality time with his baby girl and he fights the court order and pushes for this until he’s able to negotiate terms.

So he brings her to his job and she insists on wearing the little princess halloween costume, the one with the tiara, and he can’t say no because she is his little princess. Things are going great and he tells her to be careful and stick close to him, but he gets distracted for a moment, maybe by his boss about special instructions on a rush job or somethin’.

The little girl tries to be good and listen to her daddy, but curiosity gets the better of her and she climbs on a piece of machinery she shouldn’t climbin’ and Ethan’s dad-alarm goes off and he spots her, losing her balance and he runs for her… runs and dives with no care for his own safety and he manages to grab hold of her but it’s too late and they both fall into the machine before his coworkers can hit the shut off switch.

So, Ethan does the only thing he knows to do… he wraps himself around the little girl and folds her in his love, as the machine does what it’s designed to do.

It probably ain’t even in the same neighborhood as the actual events, but even though my story is most likely bullshit, it’s still real to me. it’s what I choose to believe.

And it breaks my heart ’cause that’s how I wish it was with me and my pop, but after moms died, we can’t be in the same room for ten minutes without it breakin’ into some big production. I know he means well, but who the hell is he to give me instructions on how I should live my life? Holder the Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition Lifetime Achievement Award, is who.

I carefully harvest the tiara and clean body residue out of every nook and cranny. Then I place the plastic jewelry on a towel and carefully fold it into the best presentable package I can manage.

“Fuck’re you doing over there, Mickey?” Jhonni says over his shoulder.

And suddenly I can’t do this anymore, not just Ethan and this nameless little girl, but any of it. I peel the sopping wet jumpsuit off me and throw it at my boss. “Quitin’ is what I’m doin’.” Correction, my ex-boss.

I take the tiara package over to the phone and search the directory for Forensic Affairs. “And it’s Michelle, by the way, you fat piece of garbage. Call me outside my name again and somebody’ll be unzippin’ you from one of those bags.”

I expect a response, an argument, a something… but he just sits there and takes it quietly. Makes me think this isn’t the first time somethin’ like this has happened.

I dial the number. Do I feel sorry for the person about to lose their job? Sure, but fuck ’em. There’re more important matters at hand. There’s a family that needs reunitin’.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make another call after this one. It has been a while since I spoke to the old man, after all.

Sally forth and be folding them what you care for into your lovingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Love’s Love Lost

4800800-474736-love-is-killing

Once, in the gloomy and perpetually rainy City of Alphabet, there was born a girl who was said to be the living embodiment of love. From the doctor’s first slap, the girl giggled instead of crying and flushed the neighborhood of all its gray. Her smile was a bottomless thing, its roots branching up from her soul, and it beamed so brightly as to cause blindness if it caught you unawares. Her large jade eyes radiated an innocence so pure it momentarily took your breath away. Given her birthright, she was destined to have but one mate throughout her lifetime and that person would live a charmed life ever after.

Or so the story went.

An urban legend to most, Tyrone, son of William, believed the girl existed and based on the age of the story’s telling, surely had to be an adult now. He also was convinced it was his mission to locate the girl and put an end to love, once and for all.

Tyrone worked fingers to the bone for years and all the wealth he amassed was spent on all the matchmakers who claimed to have an in with the living embodiment of love. Most were scammers, of course, the rest were simply delusional and bestowed the honor upon the wrong women. Only one woman was genuine. She knew the embodiment’s true identity and so deep was her jealousy that she gladly agreed to arrange a match if it meant obliterating the anomaly from the face of the planet.

When Tyrone met the matchmaker in a single occupancy room off Delancey Street, he thought of all the people he had ever encountered, this woman was the flipside of the living embodiment of love’s coin. Emaciated with a rat’s nest for hair, her features were packed together tightly as if God had pinched her face when she was born and left it to set that way.

“Your fee has been paid in full. Why have you not set up the introduction?” Tyrone asked.

“You are not ready.” the matchmaker spat the words like a cawing crow. “As long as you wear your true intentions like armor, she will dismiss you outright.”

“If I pretend, she will spot the ruse instantly. I am sure she has developed the ability to detect friendly facades. I will approach her as a man scorned, which is the truth, and win her over from there.”

“Interesting. And how do you mean to kill her?”

“Those were not my words. I mean to put an end to love.”

“The difference being?”

“I intend to woo her, make her love me, and when she is at her happiest moment, I will argue with her, break her heart with harsh words and hurtful actions. And I will not let her leave, and I will not stop, not until the shine dulls in her eyes and the smile becomes a rootless tree, and even then I will continue until she withdraws, from our relationship, from her happiness, from the world.”

“That will take years if it ever happens at all.”

“It will. I am patient.” Tyrone said.

“But I doubt you are strong enough.”

“Then refund my money. I will find her on my own.”

The matchmaker leaned in closer and eyed Tyrone head to toe. His nose was full of her scent, decaying food left to stew in its own rancid juices.

“A deal is a deal,” she said. “So we are clear, I will make the introduction and my part will be done. Should you fail in your attempts, there will be no returning of the fee paid, understood?”

Tyrone nodded and she led the way out of the room on Delancey. Under the cloak of night, they dipped down into a subway station marked, Closed For Restoration. Past the turnstile and empty platform onto the train tracks. Tyrone masked his apprehension as he gave the third rail a wide berth and occasionally peered over his shoulder at the sound of distant train rumblings.

Between stations, they encountered a society of people, homeless and long abandoned by the surface world, who barred their path. Tyrone thought he would have to fight his way through, but the matchmaker had things well in hand. She mumbled something at the leader, a password perhaps, and pulled a tin of potted meat from her handbag and placed it in his hand. They carefully waded through a field of displaced people’s bedding and cooking stations until they finally reached the service passageway that led to a room not much larger than the one they just left.

In the room were two chairs that faced each other. The matchmaker sat in one and gestured for Tyrone to sit across from her.

“If this is some sort of trick…”

The matchmaker waived off the threat. “She will be here, I promise.”

“Why here?” Tyrone asked.

“There is an interesting story behind that.” The matchmaker cleared her throat and spat a gob of phlegm to the side. “It seems the gift of unconditional love that Arianna was born with — that is the name of the woman you seek, Arianna — the gift that flowed freely from her, the gift that touched everyone within her sphere of influence and filled them with ecstasy, proved too much to bear for most people.”

“Are you telling me people fell too much in love?” Tyrone asked.

“To the point of delirium. It drove them mad. Imagine the feeling when you have loved someone or something in your life, more than anything else in the world, loved it so much that it hurt. Now multiply that by ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, even. Never any hatred, or indifference, only a love for everything that increases exponentially the longer you remain in Arianna’s presence.”

“I never considered that.”

“Most do not.”

“So what happened?” Tyrone leaned forward in his seat.

“Nothing like a good story, eh?” The corners of the matchmaker’s mouth curled slightly. “Arianna’s parents, immune to her gift, fearing for their daughter’s safety as well as their own, moved in the small of the night to parts unknown, somewhere far removed from society at large, and remained in seclusion.”

The matchmaker stopped talking. Tyrone waited, thinking she paused for dramatic effect, but after nearly ten minutes of silence, asked, “Is that it?”

“All the true bits. The rest is apocrypha. I figured that would not interest you.”

Tyrone shrugged, his disinterest unconvincing, “Since we are here…”

“Well, the way I heard it, the family managed to get along fine. True they were isolated but they were also together and safe and Arianna’s constant state of happiness helped the situation be less stressful. Their lives remained uneventful… until the day their daughter reached puberty.

“On the twenty-second day of the seventh month of her fourteenth year, Arianna began growing distant, her once innocent eyes darkened and the luster faded from her smile. The gift once thought to be good was slowly transforming from its former sham and ruse into the corrupt curse it truly was.”

Tyrone’s brow knotted. “So she is not actually a child of love?”

“Why would you think that? Arianna is the physical embodiment of love. At birth, she was the love that was new and innocent and when she entered womanhood, she became the other side of love, the dark side none of us admit to feeling or acting upon.”

“Whichever side she represents when I make her mine, I will cause it to wilt away to nothingness.”

“Do you have an alternate plan?”

“A what?”

“Should she find out what you are attempting, is there a fallback?”

“The only way she would find out is if you tell her…”

“Oh, I will not have to tell her anything… you already have.”

It took Tyrone a few moments to piece together her meaning. “You are… ?”

The matchmaker spread her arms wide. “The genuine article.”

“But you are…”

“A hag? Not at all what you expected? It is the only bit the urban legend got wrong. I was born an ugly child, but people viewed me through the eyes of unconditional love, so my looks did not matter.”

“You tricked me!”

“How? Hello, Tyrone, I am Arianna, pleased to meet you. Consider yourself introduced. Now, live up to your word.” Arianna said as she moved from her chair and sat on Tyrone’s lap. “Woo me and put an end to love. I dare you.”

Tyrone wanted to push her off, but perhaps he hadn’t really wanted that at all. Up close, Arianna wasn’t that horrible to look at. Her mottled skin was actually clear and smooth. Her nose once bent and crooked, appeared aquiline now. Her lips, full and delicious. Her build, athletic.

“Something the matter?” Arianna asked.

Tyrone’s heart beat in his throat. “What are you doing to me?”

“Giving you a taste. I can control the power now. Love, hate, passion, jealousy, to greater and lesser degrees.”

Tyrone tried to scowl but his face wouldn’t cooperate. “What are you going to do to me?”

“Offer you the opportunity to become my mate,” said Arianna. She climbed off his lap and drew her power back into herself, allowing Tyrone to see her in her true form again. “If legend is to be believed, a charmed life awaits you.”

“And if I decline?”

“Then you join the loveless.” Arianna gestured toward the door.

“You mean the people we passed… ?”

“Men and women, not much different than yourself, unable to deal with heartbreak or rejection. Selfish people who, being denied love, sought to prevent others from experiencing it.”

“Why do they mill about below ground so lost?” Tyrone asked.

“They were unable to fulfill their supposed heart’s desire of removing my influence from the world and refused my offer of companionship. Once you turn your back on love, what else is there?” Arianna drained the dark room entirely of love and let him ponder the notion as he sank deep into loneliness and wallowed in abandon and despair.

After an eternity of brooding silence, Tyrone spoke up, “I… accept your offer. I will become your mate.”

“And will you woo me, make me love you, and when I am at my happiest, will you break my heart and make me withdraw from the world?”

“That I will indeed, even if it takes the rest of my life.”

“Challenge accepted.” Arianna shook the man’s hand firmly.

Contract sealed, he put his plan into effect by telling the living embodiment of love his story. Of the woman he loved, that he did nothing to deserve but was blessed with nonetheless. Of their happiness together. Of the sharp knife of cruel fate that cut their time short. Of the anguish that swallowed him whole the instant her body was committed to the ground.

And when his tale was through, Tyrone, son of William, pulled her into his embrace and kissed her with every ounce of his intent and Arianna was forced to admit she felt a slight tingle. They battled for years in this game of hearts, each giving as good as they got, and if he actually succeeded putting an end to her, it was with kindness. Despite the competition that continued to their dying days, the couple wound up living happily ever after.

Oh, and they had one child, who was said to be the living embodiment of peace… but that’s a story for another day.

Sally forth and be careful that the love you kill isn’t your owningly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License